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Sexual Harassment's Emotional Toll

According to researchers at the American Psychological Association (APA), nearly 50 percent of American working women will experience on-the-job sexual harassment at some point in their careers. 

While mechanisms are in place for reporting this harassment, high levels of anxiety and related depression are reported among those who have been harassed. It is important for anyone who thinks they are being harassed to go through the proper channels of reporting their concerns with their employer. It is also very important for the individual to seek professional help if they develop any of the signs of anxiety or depression, including nervousness, fear, insomnia, feelings of helplessness, and irritability.

When does harmless banter escalate into harmful—and decidedly illegal—sexual harassment? According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment includes any of the following when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances

  • Requests for sexual favors

  • Suggestive remarks, pointed references to a person's sexuality or displaying pornographic materials on the job

  • Making sexual submission a condition of employment or promotion

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC says sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.

  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.

  • The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.

Although every situation is different, the APA suggests that victims can consider the following strategies:

  • If someone is touching you in an inappropriate manner, say NO! to the harasser, loudly and directly.

  • Write a letter to the harasser describing your negative reaction to his or her conduct. Send it by certified mail.

  • Carefully document all incidents of harassment, including dates, times, places, and names.

  • Find out who's responsible for preventing sexual harassment in your department or organization and show then your documentation.

  • Grievance procedures can be obtained from your employer or the EEOC.

  • If you're experiencing anxiety, anger, or depression because of harassment, schedule a session with a professional counselor.

For more information, go to the EEOC website.